Fortune-telling at Wong Tai Sin Temple

Another weekend, another trip to a religious site. Hooray!

Last weekend we took another short jaunt on the MTR to Wong Tai Sin temple (黃大仙祠), a very popular shrine just east of us [Wikipedia entry, official site]. We had originally planned to combine a visit here with our trip to Nan Lin Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery, but I’m glad we didn’t. There’s enough at each of these places to merit a trip of its own.

Main gate

So it’s pretty impressive just approaching, yeah.

This is a very popular site, not so much with tourists as with people coming to make offerings, burn joss sticks, and have their fortunes told (more on this later). So shortly upon entering, you encounter long rows of stalls selling various devotional items and offerings. To wit:

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You then pass by some awesome, and slightly creepy, statues depicting the various signs of the Chinese zodiac. As I was born in the year of the rabbit, behold. I like this guy because he looks a bit satisfied with himself, despite having a human hand. Perhaps it’s his bitchin’ robe.

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Oh, hello there. You caught me in the middle of reading The New Yorker. Those things pile up so quickly!

The main attraction of the temple complex is this large courtyard. (As always, click for the larger version.)

Even on an overcast day, a riot of color. And really, that's the only good kind of riot.

Even on an overcast day, a riot of color. And really, that’s the only good kind of riot.

Would you like a couple of detail shots? I have them.

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What’s going on here is that folks are engaged in a little divination. For a small amount of money, you get a canister of sticks, each with a number or symbol on it. While focusing on a question you shake the container until one falls out. You then take this stick to one of the licensed and bonded fortune-tellers on site, who will then explain to you how this particular sticks relates to your question. Here are some folks movin’ and shakin’.

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Note that the girl on the left is reaching for the stick that just fell out of her canister.

And another, showing the canisters of sticks in more detail.

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Other people purchase joss sticks to burn in front of the main temple.

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How would you like a faux-artsy macro shot? I have one of those, too.

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We’ve been to a good number of temples by now, and the smell of the incense is part awesome, part intoxicating, and very, very clingy. Like all smoke, it sticks to your clothes and hair. Probably even more in this case because of all the resin found in the higher-quality ones. So after walking through clouds of smoke like this for a few hours, it’s no wonder we smelled like temple for the rest of the day.

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Walking around the temple complex is really fun, because all sorts of different kinds of people are there. A few tourists like ourselves; a whole lot of families, some with picnics and most with kids running around; some very reserved-looking folks clearly there for a little meditative time but having trouble with that amidst all the sound; and not a few (teenage?) couples who treated the whole thing like dinner-and-a-movie. There were dressed in ways one doesn’t normally associate with places of worship. So basically a great big spectacle in all good ways.

This temple is, like most things in Hong Kong, situated in the middle of dense urban living. It’s hard not to be struck by the juxtaposition of the drab, ubiquitous linearity of government-subsidized housing estates with the vibrant, colorful curves of the temple.

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Here’s a part of the complex devoted to the memory of deceased Taoist priests.

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When you wander around behind the main temple, you discover this lovely garden and waterway, along with some spectacularly un-crowded views.

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Lanterns and pillars

Eventually, we found ourselves in the Fortune-Telling and Oblation Arcade. How did we know?

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This arcade didn’t have a single Pac-Man or Space Invaders. I asked.

I had expected something a bit more ad hoc and unorganized, but no. This was serious business. The fortune-tellers rent out stalls in the arcade. Here’s the hallway, which was oddly quiet when we were there.

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And here’s a single stall, which I captured as an example of Local Color.

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Cate had her fortune read (without doing the stick-shaking thing) via her birthdate and some palm reading. In the course of the reading, we learned that the fortune teller had only two children her entire life despite never using contraception (she offered this freely, I should note, certainly not in response to anything we asked), because the area between her nose and lips is rather flat. So there’s that.

Coming soon: a video!

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1 Comment

Filed under temples

One response to “Fortune-telling at Wong Tai Sin Temple

  1. Pingback: A short film | Unforbidding City

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